Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Recommended Reads

There's been a lot of great writing both in print and online (and at times, both) for filmmakers this year. It's late in the year, but I thought I'd give my quick summary of some great titles that I think are required reading for any filmmaker - or any person in the film business, really - and most are good for other artists as well. These are in no particular order, and while I know some of the authors and am quoted in some of these, I tried to be unbiased and stand to make no financial gain. Most were written this year, but some came out earlier (even much earlier) but I just got around to reading them, and near the end are a few that aren't even film/media books but that I still highly recommend.

The Reel Truth: Everything you didn't know you need to know about making an independent film. By Reed Martin.  Like the title, this book is long, and probably could have benefited from a better editor, but it's definitely a book every filmmaker should read. Reed does a great job of covering everything from first-timer mistakes to new paths in distribution. He gets some really great advice from leading producers, distributors, writers - pretty much everyone.

Shaking the Money Tree: The art of getting grants and donations for film and video projects. By Morrie Warshawski. (link is to all of his books) Morrie has been the leading expert on this subject, and this book isn't new, but it is a new (3rd) edition now, and he's added lots of great new material. But even the old material was great - Morrie tells you everything you need to know to raise grants and donations - an especially useful skill for doc makers. His other books are great too, and I recommend everyone read his book on throwing a fundraising house party - more filmmakers should use this strategy.
Fans, Friends & Followers: Building an audience and a creative career in the digital age. By Scott Kirsner.  Scott writes a great blog and lectures all over, and this book is a great summation of the new ways artists are using the new tools available through digital to build a fan base that can support their career. He's packed lots of interviews into this book, not just with filmmakers, but with authors, musicians and other artists who are doing creative things to build and audience and make a living. Read the book and the blog.

Think Outside the Box Office: The Ultimate Guide to Film Distribution and Marketing for the Digital Era. By Jon Reiss. Jon is the filmmaker who made Bomb It! (among other films), and he learned a lot about releasing a film from his own experience building a hybrid distribution plan for that film. He combines that real-world knowledge with great advice from others in the industry. What's great about this book is that he doesn't advocate for just one way of doing things. He presents the arguments for multiple ways of thinking about distribution and then gives his experience and his suggestions for how to combine these ideas into something that works. He provides lots of case studies, a great breakdown of different budgets for distribution and goes into every step, in detail, for distribution and marketing your film. Detailed, and long, but worth reading, and worth making everyone on your film's team read it as well. 

Film Festival Secrets: A handbook for independent filmmakers. By Christopher Holland. Ok, this may be my favorite book of the year, no offense to the others, because I used to run a film fest. Chris lays out, in simple language, everything you need to know about your film fest experience as a filmmaker. From devising a strategy to getting people to show up for your film and what to do when you're done. He doesn't go far into the realm of new models, but doesn't ignore these. What he does is teach filmmakers the little do's and don'ts that every festival director wishes they had time to tell filmmakers. Literally, to send a film to a fest or to attend one without reading this book is the dumbest thing you could possibly do. It won't arm you for everything, but combine this with Reel Truth, Fans... and Think Outside the Box Office and you'll pretty much know everything you need to know about the life of your film after production. You can get the book here, and also some cool podcasts.

Truly Free Film. A blog by Ted Hope. Prolific producer, blogger (of multiple blogs), tweeter, indie film community builder, speaker....the list doesn't end there, Ted Hope has been on a roll this year. He blogs every second, while producing cool films, and every post is a gem. Disclaimer: Ted has said some nice things about me in his blog so I may be biased, but that's the other thing I love - he posts nearly nothing that is negative. All positive thoughts for the future of real (truly free) indie film.

TechDirt. A blog by Mike Masnick (and others). Mike has been doing some excellent writing on new business models. My favorite is his post "The Grand Unified Theory on the Economics of Free." That's something I talk a lot about, and Mike has done some great thinking on the subject. Check out his blog and learn why CwF + RtB = $$$ (which is also a great presentation).

Declaration of Independence: The ten principles of hybrid distribution. A manifesto of sorts by Peter Broderick. Peter's writings are always good, and this particular article was great. The title says it all. Read it at IndieWire (another great resource) and read his own blog for more.

The Workbook Project. A website by Lance Weiler and other filmmakers. The Workbook Project is essentially a great bet that filmmaker Lance Weiler made with himself - that he could make more money by giving away advice to filmmakers online than an advance he was offered to write such a book. According to Lance, it has worked. The site is a collaborative effort, and has great advice on everything from making your film to working in transmedia, often (if not always) from working filmmakers. I could explain more, but go there and read, listen and watch because it's not just writing, but podcasts, videos, etc.

Lapham's Quarterly. The best quarterly ever, by Lewis Lapham. Ok, this isn't a film book, but you can't be a good filmmaker unless you remain a good student of the world, and no one is a better guide than the curator/editor Lewis Lapham. Lapham was the editor of Harper's for years, and is one of the best public intellectuals we have. If you've ever read his "Notebook" in Harpers, then you know the singularly distressing feeling of learning that you are completely uneducated. I mean, you thought you were smart before reading him, and by sentence two you're wondering why you can't quote Diderot, Descartes, Stanley Fish and Thomas Jefferson to make your point. How did you get an education and not know any of this stuff, you wonder? Well, the LQ does you a favor - after Lewis riffs on a single subject (like Money, Travel or Education) for a few pages, he then curates writings on the subject from an assortment of the best thinkers on the subject. Most of the work is in the public domain (free), but having a curator bring it to your attention really helps. Stretch your brain. Disclaimer - I've briefly served on a publisher advisory committee for the LQ.

Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. By Don Tapscott. Also not technically a film book, but how the "net generation" is different than others is something filmmakers should know about. Most of the insights are things that pretty much anyone spending time online knows now, but it's great to have real research to back up your hunches, and to get a take on why this matters and how we should approach creative work given these changes.

Intellectual Value - A radical new way of looking at compensation for owners and creators in the Net-based economy. A 1997 article in Wired by Esther Dyson. It was also a longer article in Release 2.0 magazine before that, but all the links I've found are to PDFs. Way back when Esther wrote this article that preceeded all the talk about Free this year, and she not only saw it all coming, she nailed what it means precisely. 

Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights. By Bill Ivey. Again, not a strictly film book, but one which I think has many arguments relevant to film. I wrote about it here, but he also makes strong arguments about copyright issues and other issues central to filmmakers.

One last note - I linked to a couple of blogs, but my plan had been to link to my favorite blog posts of the year. Then I realized I have about one per day and this would take forever, so perhaps that is another post, or perhaps I just give up now....not sure yet.

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